july 2014 reading wrap up

Whew, I can’t believe July is over. It feels like a crazy busy month, what with my birthday and traveling and signing a lease on a new rental house. I’m still sort of shaking my head and wondering how it went by so quickly. With all of that, I still managed to finish a ton of books. About a third were comic books, but whatever, I’m still counting them. Here’s what I read in July (in no particular order):

  1. Abbot, Meg: The Fever (fiction)
  2. Rachman, Tom: The Rise and Fall of Great Powers (fiction)
  3. Netzer, Lydia: How to Tell Toledo From the Night Sky (fiction)
  4. Gay, Roxane: Bad Feminist (essays)
  5. Rubin, Gretchen: Happier at Home (nonfiction)
  6. Taylor, Chris: How Star Wars Conquered the Universe (nonfiction)
  7. Winters, Ben: Countdown City (fiction/audio book)
  8. Winters, Ben: World of Trouble (fiction)
  9. Grossman, Lev: The Magicians (fiction)
  10. Wieve, Kurtis: Rat Queens, Vol. 1: Sass and Sorcery (comic book)
  11. Vaughn, Brian K: Y: The Last Man, Vol. 1: Unmanned (comic book)
  12. Vaughn, Brian K: Y: The Last Man, Vol. 2: Cycles (comic book)
  13. Vaughn, Brian K: Y: The Last Man — The Deluxe Edition Book Two (comic book)
  14. Vaughn, Brian K: Y: The Last Man — The Deluxe Edition Book Three (comic book)

Like the rest of my summer reading, a lot of fiction and a lot of other formats (in June it was audio books, this month it’s comics). It’s hard to pick a favorite book of the month. I adored The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman, but also had a hard time putting down Chris Taylor’s How Star Wars Conquered the Universe. We’ll call it a draw.

A Look to August

I’ve mentioned a couple of times that I’m going to focus on reading nonfiction for the month of August (except for finishing up The Magician King and The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman). I picked up a ton of great September nonfiction at Book Expo America that I am going to make it a priority to read. Here’s what I’ve got on my plate:

  • What Stays in Vegas by Adam Tanner (Sept. 2 from PublicAffairs) — How private corporations are using big data in targeting consumers.
  • Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbot (Sept. 2 from Harper) — Four women who risked it all as Civil War spies.
  • Daring: My Passages by Gail Sheehy (Sept. 9 from Harper) — A memoir from a early lady journalist in the 1960s.
  • City of Lies by Ramita Navai (Sept. 9 from PublicAffairs) —  The true stories of “ordinary people forced to live extraordinary lives in modern Tehran.”
  • Fire Shut Up in My Bones by Charles Blow (Sept. 23 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) — A memoir by a New York Times columnist about his experience growing up in Louisiana.
  • A Deadly Wandering by Matt Richtel (Sept. 23 from William Morrow) — A cautionary tale about the dangers of texting and driving and the science of attention.
  • On Immunity by Eula Biss (Sept. 30 from Graywolf Press) — An exploration of why we fear vaccinations and our ideas of immunity.

What books are you excited to read in August?

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bad feminist by roxane gayI want to get on the bandwagon of people who have loved Roxane Gay’s debut essay collection, Bad Feminist (Aug. 5 from Harper Perennial), so bad that I’ve been tossing and turning my lukewarm reaction to the book around in my head for a couple of weeks, trying to figure out what I might be missing. What I’ve finally concluded is this: Bad Feminist is a relevant and worthwhile collection of essays, a collection I’m glad that exists, but a collection I think is organizationally flawed.

It would help, I suppose, to start out with the idea of being a bad feminist. For Gay, being a bad feminist means embracing feminism while also admitting to being human, messy, and flawed. Ultimately, the book argues, being a bad feminist is better than not being a feminist at all. This is from one of the concluding chapters:

Maybe I’m a bad feminist, but I am deeply committed to the issues important to the feminist movement. I have strong opinions about misogyny, institutional sexism that consistently places women at a disadvantage, the inequity in pay, the cult of beauty and thinness, the repeated attacks on reproductive freedom, violence against women, and on and on. I am committed to fighting fiercely for equality as I am committed to disrupting the notion that there is an essential feminist. …

Being a feminist, however, even a bad one, has also taught me that the need for feminism and advocacy also applies to seemingly less serious issues like a Top 40 song or a comedian’s puerile humor. The existence of these lesser artifacts of our popular culture is made possible by the far graver issues we are facing. The ground has long been softened.

These ideas – feminism isn’t an all or nothing proposition, people who are feminists make mistakes, feminism is still needed given the conversations about women and society we are still having – rang deeply true to me. The first few essays were so spot on in their criticisms of pop culture and politics that I thought for certain this would be one of those collections that bent my brain in a good way. Gay is such an elegant, eloquent writer – she’s a pleasure to read on literally any topic.

But, unfortunately, the collection faltered for me as it approached the end. The essays are organized by theme – Me; Gender and Sexuality; Race and Entertainment; Politics, Gender and Race; and Back to Me – which seems like a good idea. The problem is that by the time I got to the fourth or fifth essay in a section, the arguments start to repeat themselves, just with different topics melded together.

The point where this organizational issue crystallized for me was “When Less is More,” a critique of the television show Orange is the New Black. Basically, Gay argues against that implication that people of color should like all pop culture that is about people of color and that the show, largely, is not as good as the critical gushing implies.

My first reaction to the piece was (I am embarrassed to admit) annoyance… Are you kidding? Is nothing good enough? … I hate that I had this reaction. Hate it. I know that I’m able to have this reaction because of my privileges as an upper-middle class, white, college educated woman. I’ve had the opportunity to see my life experience reflected accurately in pop culture, rather than portrayed in a way that reinforces stereotypes and still privileges another story over mine. These are moments when privilege matters.

Intellectually, I also know that this essay is a good, important piece of criticism. And in the context of the broader critical conversation about Orange is the New Black, it provides a solid discussion on how to think about the show’s portrayal of race more deeply than just, yay, acting roles for women of color! But in the context of this collection, following essays critical of Tyler Perry and Fifty Shades of Grey and The Help and “Blurred Lines,” it felt exhausting.

And that’s, I think, where I come up lukewarm on this book. The ideas in Bad Feminist are relevant and important and absolutely worth considering. But I wish that I had thought more about how to read this book before I started (or, that the publisher would have arranged it differently from the start). If I had, I would have approached it differently, spreading the essays out over a longer period of time, or jumping to read essays in different sections of the book.

Taken individually, the essays are great. Good feminists, bad feminists and questioning feminists will all find food for thought in this collection.

Other Reviews: Books Speak Volumes |

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Currently | We’re Packing…

July 27, 2014 Currently

Time and Place // 9:50 a.m., for the last time at my desk in our current house. One week from today we’ll be in our new place! Eating and Drinking // Blueberry Greek yogurt and blood orange cinnamon black tea Reading // I spent most of this week reading How Star Wars Conquered the Universe by Chris Taylor (Sept. 30 from […]

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Reviewletts: Immigration and Murder, the CIA and Spies

July 22, 2014 Book Review

I have a shelf on my desk where I keep books that I’ve finished but haven’t reviewed. There are several books that have been sitting there for a month or more that I keep meaning to review… and then can’t find much to say about despite having generally good feelings about them. In the spirit […]

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Currently | We’re Moving!

July 20, 2014 Currently

Briefly // The boyfriend and I are moving! We signed a lease on a new rental house last weekend and are gearing up to move into the new place on August 2. It’s quick, trust me, I know. I’m not sure what that is going to mean for the blog over the next month or so, […]

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Nonfiction Recommendation Engine: Bananas and Presidents

July 17, 2014 Nonfiction Recommendation Engine

The Nonfiction Recommendation Engine is a semi-regular feature in which I offer personalized book recommendations based answers to a short list of questions. My real hope with the series is that other readers will jump in with recommendations in the comments, making each post a great resource for nonfiction reads.  One of my friends from high […]

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Thoughts on Two Trilogies I Loved Reading

July 15, 2014 Book Review

This set of mini-reviews is a little different that others — I’m going to talk about two recently-completed trilogies that I’ve enjoyed since the first books came out. The first is a YA fantasy series where the magical elite, the Grisha, manipulate matter down to the very atom to summon and mold the basic elements in […]

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Currently | Festival Weekend

July 13, 2014 Currently

Briefly // Thanks to everyone for the birthday wishes on last week’s Currently post. I had a nice day off on Monday and a generally chill day on my actual birthday, Tuesday. Twenty eight is gearing up to be a good year. Time and Place // About 8:45 a.m. at my desk. This weekend is our […]

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Giveaway: ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door’ by Katy Butler

July 11, 2014 News and Notes

On Wednesday, I shared a post with three books on the business of death. After the post went up, Katy Butler, author of Knocking on Heaven’s Door, contacted me about doing a giveaway of the book here at the blog. I loved the book (here’s my review from last September) and think the book should get […]

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Buy, Borrow, Bypass: Bring Out Your Dead!

July 9, 2014 Book Review

This post originally appeared on Book Riot. In “Buy, Borrow, Bypass,” Book Riot contributors give brief reviews of their recent reads and advise whether you should buy, borrow, or bypass them. I’ve always had a bit of a dark streak in my reading life. I love a good true crime story and often pick up memoirs […]

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